BIM Academy and Penn State University talk about the urgent training needed to fill digital skills gaps

by Andrew Johnson | February 24, 2023 |  3 min read

BIM Academy and Penn State University talk about the urgent training needed to fill digital skills gaps
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In his new role as our Digital Climate Podcast host, BIM Academy’s Learning and Development Lead, Andrew Johnson talked with Professor John Messner of Penn State University, Pennsylvania about why we need to increase digital skills levels across the construction industry.

Penn State is one of eight private universities that make up the Ivy League in the US. With over 21,000 students (including 4,500 international students) and 4,700 faculty members across 26 campuses, it is ranked the 6th best university in the US and 47th in the world out of 1,406 participating institutions in the 2022 Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings.

John is the Charles and Elinor Matts Professor of Architectural Engineering and the Director of the Computer Integrated Construction Research Program. He specialises in BIM, digital twin, lean construction and automation in construction research. His research team developed several core BIM planning guidelines incorporated into the US National BIM Standard and he has recently been inducted into the US’ National Academy of Construction.

BIM Academy was excited to hear what John had to say about education for the construction industry, with his vast knowledge – being both an educator and practitioner – of BIM and modern methods of construction (MMC). Andrew was eager to ask John about what courses and curriculum they offer at Penn State and, as a leading institution in the field of digital construction learning, how he has seen education in this space at Penn State change and evolve over the past decade.

The conversation touched upon how John has been with Penn State for 22 years and during this time has witnessed many significant transformational changes in education for the built environment, and how most recently he has worked on several new BIM and digital twin initiatives. As well as teaching, John is actively involved in many of Penn State’s facility projects.

John told Andrew it has been really interesting to watch the adoption of BIM and other digital methodologies across the construction industry. When he first came to the university there was some research taking place on BIM, but not to extend to which the university places focus on this today and he has very much enjoyed being part of its evolution.

Andrew commented that the construction industry has undergone a revolution in digital construction with for example the introduction of BIM in the whole life cycle of the design and build process. This is a significant level of change for working methods, and asked John if he believed that the level of change to bring new skills to the industry has kept up the same pace as out evolving tech. John agreed the extent of which digital processes have influenced change is extraordinary however, industry is struggling to find the level of skills it needs to deliver the roles that are required to leverage digital technology. Which is why it is important for universities to increase the level of BIM for example in their curriculum to increase the skill sets of the students.

But John also stresses that universities are not the only place where we should be introducing these skill sets. Training in industry is also critical. Listen to the full conversation with Andrew and John in Episode 2 of the Digital Climate Podcast Series 3, to hear more about how to bridge skills gaps and the importance of incorporating digital skills training into education and industry for all ages and abilities.

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About the author

Andrew Johnson

Associate, BIM Academy

Andrew is the Learning and Development Lead at BIM Academy, responsible for authoring and delivering digital construction training, as well as designing and developing digital transformation programmes for industry clients. Andrew specialises in digital strategy development through information management on live projects and through research.

In 2019, Andrew left the Corps of Royal Engineers after a full 24 years’ service, leaving as a senior soldier.

Prior to leaving the military, Andrew completed his postgraduate MSc in engineering management, with a thesis that investigated the cultural impact of implementing BIM in the UK construction industry.

Andrew Johnson